Back to the Science Future

Back to the Science Future

Where is my jet pack? Why can’t I live forever yet? And where is my Technological apocalypse?

Friday saw the launch of the new issue of I’Science magazine. It has been entitled the “Great Expectations” issue. It looked at what science has promised us in the past and how close we are to full filling those predictions. You can check it out here.

 To celebrate the release of the issue I am going to share an art project which I happened across a few weeks ago.  It is a set of prophetic illustrations by the French artist Villemard. He produced them in 1910, intending to show what life would be like in the year 2000. Some of his predictions are remarkably accurate and others are just plain odd.



Prediction: Appears to be a primitive version of video calling

Exists in the 21st Century: Yes, and has been around in various forms for decades.


Prediction: Flying cars and flight suits

Exists in the 21st Century: No, although not from lack of trying 


Prediction: Computer aided design

Exists in the 21st Century: Yes, and with the rise of the 3D printer only likely to become more prevalent and publicly available.


Prediction: A Matrix-esque method of learning

Exists in the 21st Century: No, still only in science fiction. Although it could be argued that this is image is an allegory for Wikipedia.


Prediction: A sort of boat, airship crossbreed

Exists in the 21st Century: No, I’m pretty sure these don’t exist! 


Prediction: An automated hairdressers

Exists in the 21st Century: No, the closest we have come to this prediction is the electric razor.


Prediction: Automatic Make-up

Exists in the 21st Century: No, although versions of this can be seen in the Fifth Element and The Simpsons.

8 )

Prediction: Electric roller skates

Exists in the 21st Century: These do exist

New collaborative science magazine launched.

New collaborative science magazine launched.

This article was originally written for ABSW:

Today sees the release of the pilot issue of the new free digital ‘science lifestyle’ magazine, Guru.

Edited by Stuart Farrimond, it will be published bi-monthly and aims to cover the importance of science in everyday life “without being geeky”.

“At the moment those with academic interests in science are well catered for by existing publishers” said Farrimond. He continued “There are a variety of magazines and periodicals which focus on science and technology subjects. However, the majority of these publications attract a demographic with either prior expertise or a specialist interest in that field…Our vision is to make science engaging and understandable to a lay reader who has little or no scientific background”.

The first issue covers many areas including the science of decision making, common misconceptions about medicine and the do-it-yourself satellite project CubeSat.

Marketing itself as a ‘science lifestyle’ magazine it aims to target people who are interested in the world around them, but who would never pick up a ‘science’ magazine. It also seeks to harness some of the power of new-technology, having been designed to look attractive and easy to read on computers, tablets and smart phones.

The publication’s content is crowd sourced, which makes it an interesting potential platform for science writers and bloggers. Crowd-sourced science has become a popular way of engaging online. Projects such as FoldIt and GalaxyZoo rely on members of the public who have an interest in science to aid research and have been very successful. The use of this model to produce a publication could be seen as unreliable. But, according to science blogger David Robertson “the internet is teeming with people keen to contribute to the spread of science knowledge. This can be seen in the sheer numbers of science blogs out there and their online popularity”.

As the debate on unpaid internships rumbles on, media outlets have come under increased scrutiny. For those looking to pursue a career in science journalism it could be that crowd sourced publications, such as Guru, become a valuable experiential platform.

With the launch of the magazine today, the team at Guru hope that it “will get people get excited and inspired about science”.

If you would like to get involved with Guru Magazine drop them an email:

It’s Criminal – Press Release Misrepresentation

It’s Criminal – Press Release Misrepresentation

The PR officer is interrogated for a confession


You are sat at a table in a dark room, handcuffed. One police officer is shouting in your face, swearing and appears very angry. The other is stood in the corner watching and interjects saying that maybe a cup of tea is in order. Who is more likely to make you talk? Well, new research claims to have found the answer, or does it?

I originally intended to blog about the findings by the University of Montreal that ‘Good Cop’ beats ‘Bad Cop’. However, having now read the (quite long) paper I have realised I fell into the trap of a press release that took a bit too much of a license with the research. The press release, which can be found here claims that the research proves that the cuddly approach is more likely to draw a confession than an agressive questioning style. Does the paper support this? No. The variables are so intertwined that drawing a conclusion that remotely resembles the press release is at best lazy and at worst deceiptful.

Don’t get me wrong it is a good paper which draws interesting conclusions on the role of evidence quality and social factors, amongst others in obtaining a confession. However, the closest it gets to the press release is the following statment:

“It is reasonable to assume that the interviewer’s strategies and abilities in convincing the offender to confess their crime are an integral part of the interrogation outcome.”

Which I dont believe is anywhere near a strong enough assertion to draw conclusions on the differences between being a ‘good cop’ and a ‘bad cop’.

They did find that the officers interogating are likely to behave differently when the quality of evidence varies. However, this is not enough to support the claims made in the press release. Rather interestingly the Daily Mail and Express both ran with the story. Their takes on the story follows pretty closely along with the press release.

I have no vendetta against science PR. Having had a little bit of experience in the area, I know that they do a good job at helping in the flow of science knowledge from research to the public. I just felt annoyed having had my time wasted looking for the data to support the argument that wasnt really there.

So there we have it, I rest my case.  I shall cease being a ‘bad cop’ and be a ‘good cop’ instead, not because the press release says I should, but because I, unlike the press release, have plenty of evidence to back up my claims!


Deslauriers-Varin, N., Lussier, P., & St-Yves, M. (2011). Confessing their Crime: Factors Influencing the Offender’s Decision to Confess to the Police Justice Quarterly, 28 (1), 113-145 DOI: 10.1080/07418820903218966

Viral Science: Wikipedia A Love Song

Viral Science: Wikipedia A Love Song

What would happen if you dated Wikipedia and then split up?

I have spent quite a bit of time recently exploring and editing Wikipedia for various projects. So, for a viral science post I decided to post up this video about the story of what it would be like to be in a realtionship with Wikipedia:

Here are the lyrics to the song:

When I met you, I thought you were really smart
And even more so when we started going out
It was your intellect that really won my heart
There was so much stuff you knew so much about

I was hungry for knowledge, and I was single
I didn’t want to date and really hadn’t planned to
You were cool and you were smart and multilingual
And I felt like I could really understand you

But then, it went downhill
and we can never get back to our better days
I’m done, I’ve had my thrill
and I think we ought to go our separate ways

But it isn’t you, it’s me
I guess we just weren’t meant to be
I thought we were inseparable, I thought you were my friend
But looking back now, it all makes sense at the end

You’re sometimes vague, and you’re often inconsistent
You’ve no opinions, you never take a stance
You’re so dispassionate, you always sound so distant
And I tell you, you know zilch about romance

And not once did you ever say you love me
You sent no flowers, you NEVER called me “honey”
You always talked as if you were above me
And it feels like you are always needing money

Sometimes you generalize,
And on better days your tone is condescending
And when we talk books or films
You ALWAYS find a way spoil the ending

But it isn’t you, it’s me
I need someone more scholarly
I thought you had the answers, but your smarts are all pretend
And my attraction only makes sense at the end

You just believe everything you’re ever told
You never question, I’m pretty sure you don’t fact check
When someone puts ideas into your head
You never blink, you immediately buy it
I won’t say that you have no integrity… but I might imply it

It turns out you’re not the guy I thought I knew
and I think we need to stop and take a breather
I never know if what you’re saying’s really true
and frankly, sometimes, I don’t think you know either

You have no real facts, your knowledge is all heresay
And I’m tired of playing all your stupid games
You don’t keep pictures of me, and you don’t know my birthday
I don’t think that you even know my name

You keep tabs on other girls
But I notice there’s no article for me
You’re known by all the world
So I guess I’m just a droplet in the sea

But it isn’t you, it’s me
I owe you no apology
I know not to judge my company just based upon its looks
I’m too grown-up for your articles, it’s time that I read books

Adventures in Google NGrams

Adventures in Google NGrams

This has been around for a while, but I thought that for today’s blog post I would have a bit of fun with Google NGrams. For those of you who dont know what it is, Google Books have scanned millions of books dating back a long way and you can look at changes in word usage over time using Google NGrams.

Observe vs Experiment (click on the images to see them full size):

Sex vs Drugs vs Rock vs Roll

War vs Peace (both World Wars clearly visible)

Charles Darwin vs Alfred Russel Wallace

Nikola Tesla vs Thomas Edison



Scientific Collaboration Mapped Out

Scientific Collaboration Mapped Out

If you didn’t believe that science was a international collaborative sport then this should persuade you otherwise. These amazing images show the links between science publications, in the same way that Facebook mapped their friend data a couple of months ago. These were produced by Olivier Beauchesne and Science-Metrix. Click on the images below to see in high res:

Global science collaboration

For a fully zoomable high-res map click here

CaSE’s 25th Anniversary Reception; a review

This was originally written for the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) blog reviewing their 25th anniversary celebrations and was written by myself and Chloe McIvor:

Time changes many things. In the past 25 years we have experienced the birth of the internet, five different Prime Ministers – and the unexpected comeback of leg warmers. However, the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) is still going strong and yesterday celebrated its 25th anniversary at an event attended by the great and the good of British science.

The event, hosted by the Instituton of Engineering and Technology (IET) and sponsored by Nature, was held in Savoy Place with views looking out over some of the city’s greatest science and engineering achievements, such as the London Eye and the Millennium Bridge. It fitted well with the ethos of an evening that not only looked at CaSE’s past achievements, but looked forward to the challenges ahead.

The evening was marked by addresses from highly influential speakers; Professor Denis Noble, Lord Robert May and David Willets MP, warmly introduced by the Director of CaSE, Imran Khan. Professor Noble and Lord May took us back to the mid 80’s and the start of Save British Science. They discussed the similarities between the problems facing science and engineering, then and now.

The speeches emphasised the particular success CaSE has enjoyed this year regarding the spending review, making it a particularly good year to be celebrating their achievements. David Willets was keen to express his intentions to continue working in the interests of scientists, concluding however, that the audience will know doubt judge whether or not he is successful.

Challenges ahead

After the speeches concluded, the guests were asked for their hopes and expectations for British science funding and policy in a further 25 years time. The results painted a picture of high ambition in all areas and although expectations were below hopes, the majority predicted an improvement for science by 2036.

One area where science was seen to be succeeding is education, where the proportion of STEM graduates (currently at 42%) was deemed to be at the ideal level and was predicted to remain so. There was less optimism regarding equality for women in science, highlighting a potential new challenge.

As the night drew to a close the revellers continued to celebrate, safe in the knowledge that CaSE will go on protecting the interests of British science and will have many more candles on its birthday cake in the future.

Reviewers See The Funny Side

There is a problem with the lack of transparency for a general audience in the peer review process. However, the Journal of Environmental Microbiology has bucked the trend and published its most original comments by reviewers for the year. There are some amazing put downs, and shows that scientists definitely do have a good sense of humour. Here are my pick of the comments published:

  • Done! Difficult task, I don’t wish to think about constipation and faecal flora during my holidays! But, once a referee, always and anywhere a referee; we are good boy scouts in the research wilderness. Even under the sun and near a wonderful beach.
  • This paper is desperate. Please reject it completely and then block the author’s email ID so they can’t use the online system in future.
  • The biggest problem with this manuscript, which has nearly sucked the will to live out of me, is the terrible writing style.
  • Ken, I would suggest that EM is setting up a fund that pays for the red wine reviewers may need to digest manuscripts like this one. (Ed: this excellent suggestion was duly proposed to the Publisher. However, given the logistical difficulties of problem-solving within narrow time frames, combined with the known deleterious effect of transport on good wine, a modification of the remedy was adopted, namely that Editors would act as proxies for reviewers with said digestive complaints.)
  • Always dear EMI takes care of its referees, providing them with entertainment for the holiday time in between Xmas and New Year. Plus the server shows, as usual, its inhuman nature and continues to send reminding messages. Well, between playing tennis on the Wii, eating and drinking, I found time and some strength of mind to do this work.
  • Reject – More holes than my grandad’s string vest!

And my personal pick of the bunch:

  • The writing and data presentation are so bad that I had to leave work and go home early and then spend time to wonder what life is about.

This is a very good fun read, and does enable a view at the hidden world of peer review. However, the irony is that it is not an open source paper. So only those with subscriptions or institutional access will be able to take a peek through the window into this humorous world.

Full paper found here: